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TIGER grants herald a new day for transportation — with profound implications for Minnesota

Wednesday’s announcement of TIGER grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation, including funding for the St. Paul Union Depot, confirms that it’s a new day for transportation, at least at the federal level. The implications for Minnesota are profound.

Funding for Union Depot marks a significant step forward in developing an integrated system that connects people from all parts of our metropolitan area, east and west. Union Depot will be a vital transportation hub — for the Central Corridor Light Rail line, the Red Rock commuter rail from Hastings, the Rush Line rail/bus rapid transit line from Forest Lake, an extension of the Northstar commuter rail to St. Paul, local and intercity bus service, and high speed rail connections to Chicago.

Along with the Minneapolis Transportation Interchange Facility and the lines that it will serve near the new Target Field, these investments position the metro region and the state to move people and freight in a way that makes places stronger, cleaner and safer.

Ultimately, these investments are about creating livable communities and allowing people to have a choice in getting to and from their destinations. As families adapt to these economic times, an integrated transit system with strong connections to walking and bicycling networks will enable families to consider downsizing their household’s number of cars. In doing so, families can save up to $10,000 annually per vehicle to invest in their children’s education, health care and home ownership.

A welcome shift
On a larger scale, the TIGER investments show a welcome shift in federal policies. For the first time in federal transportation funding decisions, all TIGER proposals — whether road or rail, bus or bike — competed on the same criteria. The criteria include livability, safety, environmental protection, and economic development in addition to cost-effectiveness, whatever the community — urban, suburban, or rural. I applaud this change and look forward to all federal and state projects competing on a level playing field.

Dan Hoxworth
Photo by Jacques de Beaufort
Dan Hoxworth

Of the funds awarded, 77 percent went to investments in transit, bike/walking networks, and freight-related investments for ports and rail. This funding pattern is good for jobs. A recent analysis of stimulus spending from the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Smart Growth America and U.S. PIRG showed that investments in public transportation created twice as many jobs per dollar as investments in highways. With the 2009 stimulus, highways received three times more money than transit. It’s good to see the TIGER funding reverse that ratio to create more jobs.

TLC, which administers Bike Walk Twin Cities, one of four federal Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Programs, also was pleased to see funding for similar efforts in Indianapolis and Philadelphia as well as for a Complete Streets project in Dubuque, Iowa.

Poised to be strong partner
It’s clear that our federal government is poised to be a strong partner in advancing livability, transportation choices, and sustainable communities. Now it is incumbent on the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Council and the Counties Transit Improvement Board, with their local and non-profit partners including TLC, to move forward with plans for an integrated multi-modal transportation network.

We can make significant progress this legislative session by approving the $55 million in the House bonding bill for transit capital projects and by passing the Complete Streets legislation. At the same time, we must move boldly forward with planning our transit corridors, implementing an extensive bike and walk network, and creating more livable communities through thoughtful, transit-supportive developments that expand both housing and transportation choices.

By successfully implementing transit, biking and walking networks, we will ensure that our metropolitan area is a healthy, vibrant and highly desirable place to live, raise a family, pursue a career and enjoy Minnesota’s wonderful artistic and natural treasures.

Dan Hoxworth is the executive director of Transit for Livable Communities.

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 02/19/2010 - 08:34 am.

    These are wonderful ideas. I can only hope we’re beginning to move in such directions in more substantial ways.

    There will be those, of course, who make massive amounts of money off the dirty, inefficient, expensive-to-the-consumer transportation system we currently have (psychological descendants of those who wiped out the old street car system in the metro area in order to pad their own pockets), who will do everything in their power to be sure these changes never take place.

    From their perspective, it’s better if their fellow citizens die and the earth is destroyed than that their already-bloated bank accounts be reduced by even a single penny.

  2. Submitted by rolf westgard on 02/20/2010 - 05:09 am.

    St Paul Union Depot is not the place for rail service to Chicago. We already have the University Ave Amtrak station with its ample free parking and central position between the two downtowns. I hope Transit for Livable Communities is not involved in the planning process.

  3. Submitted by Ross Williams on 02/22/2010 - 12:08 pm.

    “By successfully implementing transit, biking and walking networks, we will ensure that our metropolitan area is a healthy, vibrant and highly desirable place to live, raise a family, pursue a career and enjoy Minnesota’s wonderful artistic and natural treasures.”

    Unfortunately the same can not be said for the hundreds of small towns throughout Minnesota who find their mainstreets destroyed by MNDOT’s out of date transportation policies. They have turned them into five lane highways that move metro area traffic through towns to Minnesota’s “natural treasures” at the expense of community livability.

    Streets that are posted for 30 mph are designed for 55 mph traffic – with the anticipated result that traffic flows are all well over the posted speed limit. If there are sidewalks at all, they have no buffer between pedestrians and traffic. Street trees and other amenities are removed, to make it safe for motorists if the driver goes over the curb.

    Street parking that would provide a pedestrain buffer is removed. This makes previously thriving local business districts deserts of empty buildings. At the same time MNDOT’s “access management” removes direct access to parking lots in order to reduce lane changes – safe at the posted 30 mph speed, but not at 40+ mph design speed. Their goal is to serve traffic going through town, even though that is a distinct minority of the traffic in most communities.

    Continuous “fifth lanes” for turning, make getting across the local mainstreet suicidal. Even when crossing at lights pedestrians are exposed to unsafe, uncontrolled slip lanes – again designed to move motor vehicle traffic “efficiently” regardless of the consequences for pedestrians or bicyclists. The lights themselves don’t provide time for anyone other than the fleet afoot to get across the street.

    MNDOT continues to use out of date activators for vehicles that aren’t tripped by bicycles. The result is that cyclists have to wait for a motor vehicle to trip a light to get across the street. (Or use the pedestrian button once they recognize the problem.)

    In short, MNDOT creates an environment that puts anyone not encased in a large SUV at risk. The result is more traffic that makes small towns originally built to be kid and pedestrian friendly, little different than a suburban neighborhood without the cul-de-sacs to provide a refuge from the traffic. And it does it all in the name of mobility.

    MNDOT is hostile to anything that interferes with motor vehicles. The result is a semi-conscious effort to get pedestrians and other users off their highways and out of the way. Their goal is to make people auto-dependent. For them the ideal pedestrian environment seems to be the middle of a freeway – where there are no pedestrians.

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